NORTH ADAMS - After nearly 100 years of serving as the grand entrance way to the former Drury Academy, the ornate concrete staircases leading from Colegrove Park up to what is now known as the Conte School, will be removed.
The city's Historical Commission voted 6-0 Wednesday for a recommendation allowing the city to remove the four staircases as part of the Conte School renovation project. The city wants to remove the four staircases leading up to the school, as well as a small staircase leading up from the street into Colegrove Park.
Replacing or repairing the staircases, which have fallen into disrepair, is not a feasible option according to officials.
The approval also came with a recommendation that in lieu of the staircases, the project repair the ornate wall in Colegrove Park and replace another iconic wall that has disappeared from the top of the hill of the west side of the property.
"The school was placed where it was so it would command a high position in the community and would have a sweeping vista. It has that without the stairs. As much as I would like to see the stairs remain, it's going to be cost prohibitive to replace them. I would not be opposed to their being removed," Commissioner Paul W. Marino said when making the motion to support the removal of the staircases.
The support also came with the caveat the approval was contingent upon the project's planners providing information on whether or not it had already undergone a "Section 106" review.
Concern about whether or not the project had been reviewed under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966 -- a mandated review of properties or properties in historic districts listed on the National Register of Historic Places -- were raised by Hulda Hardman Jowett, a charter member of the commission when it was first formed in the 1970s and a historical consultant.
"My concern today is the nature of Colegrove Park. The park is in a historic district that is on the National Register of Historic Places, which means there are certain rules and regulations that apply to it when federal or state funds are used," she said. "Any work on this project can not be done until the Section 106 review has been done. This should have been triggered by the original performance notification that was sent to the Massachusetts Historical Commission. You should take a look to make sure this has been done or this project could come to a halt"
Both Colegrove Park, which sits at the base of the west side of the Conte School property and the school itself, are part of the Monument Square-Eagle Street Historic District.
Dorrie Brooks, a project architect from Margo Jones Architects, or Julie Sniezek, a project engineer from Guntlow & Associates assured the commission the project's historical consultant, Douglas Kelleher, of Epsilon Associates, had secured the proper approval from the Massachusetts Historical Commission (MHC).
Chairwoman Justyna Carlson called a five minute recess to allow Mayor Richard J. Alcombright to try to contact Kelleher by phone to weigh in on the issue, but the consultant was not available.
Brian McNiff, spokesman for Secretary of State William Galvin's office, which oversees the MHC, said Thursday that a federal Section 106 review is triggered by the use of federal funding.
When state funding is used for a project listed on the National Register, a review by the MHC is triggered by Chapter 9 of the Massachusetts General Laws (MGL), regulations which mirror federal "Section 106" review.
Some 80 percent of the renovation project is being funded by the state School Building Authority (MSBA), with the remainder of the $30 million project's funds, up to $6.5 million, will come from the city. At this time, federal funding is not being used for the project.
A letter included in the project's site plan review packet, from MHC Preservation Planner Ryan Maclej to Kelleher, dated Nov. 30, 2012, signed off on the project and provided comments to aid in the city in its compliance under MGL Chapter 9.
"The MHC does not have any concerns regarding the proposed work and did not comment with [sic] 30 days of the PNF (project notification form)," Maclej wrote. "The state body may proceed with the funding of the proposed project. The MHC commends the Town [sic] of North Adams for developing a sensitive plan that will concurrently provide updated services to generations of new students and a continuing multi-generational gathering place for special events."